A woman who claimed she was so poor she had to accept free food and drink from a nearby mosque in fact had £180,000 in 19 separate bank accounts.
Self-employed Carina Reid, of Kingsgate House, King's Road, was sentenced to three years in prison at Isleworth Crown Court on Tuesday (May 10) after pleading guilty to nine charges of dishonestly claiming housing benefit and council tax benefit at an earlier hearing.
The court heard how she first claimed housing benefit and council tax benefit from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in 2009, stating she earned an extremely low income from Enhance, her beauty business.
She also claimed to have no savings, little money for food and said she had taken no holidays between 2009 and 2014.
Facebook pics showed her sipping champagne in Harrods...and buying property in Dubai
But an investigation into her circumstances by the Royal Borough’s Anti-Fraud Service revealed the information provided by Reid to the council’s benefit service had not been accurate.
Reid’s Facebook profile revealed that while claiming benefits, she had taken holidays in Hong Kong, Dubai, Spain, Portugal, France and Switzerland.
Her profile also showed her sipping champagne in the famous Knightsbridge department store Harrods and dining at other top establishments including Scotts, the Dorchester Hotel and the Berkeley Hotel.
Reid’s King’s Road flat was purchased with a deposit of £20,000, a mortgage for which she was able to get after showing Enhance was a thriving business.
A profile of Reid on the website of her business revealed that she is a "senior medical aesthetician" who has "worked with a wide range of clientele, from VIP film stars, TV and radio presenters as well as on magazine shoots and celebrity events".
A further financial investigation conducted by the council revealed that a total of £116,000 was sent abroad by Ms Reid in 2013-2014 to acquire property in Dubai.
Another check on her LinkedIn profile indicated her desire to expand the Enhance business empire to Dubai and Los Angeles.
Eight of the charges related to Reid’s failure to declare savings of £180,000 in 19 separate bank accounts.
Reid also faced a further charge of making a false representation to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in the form of a tenancy agreement which named her as a tenant in Kingsgate House, London, SW10 when in fact she was the owner of the King’s Road property.
The court heard that as a result of her false statements to the council, Reid was overpaid a total of £51,110.37 comprising £48,395.99 housing benefit, £2,173.40 council tax benefit and £540.98 council tax reduction.
Some trips abroad were paid for by friends or boyfriends, she claimed
Reid told the court that she did not believe she had an extravagant lifestyle despite what her social media profile might have suggested.
Courts heard how she claimed some of the trips abroad were paid for by friends or boyfriends over the years and others were also business training trips.
She also added that she had always been truthful in her tax affairs.
Sentencing Reid, His Honour Judge Marks Moore described her fraud as “sophisticated” and “premeditated” and designed to fund her lavish lifestyle.
He also said that this was “not a passive fraud” and that every time she filled in a claim form there was a “positive demonstration to deceive.”
Speaking after sentence was passed, leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Councillor Nicholas Paget-Brown, said: "Money that was intended for those in greatest need was instead dishonestly used by Carina Reid to fund a lavish lifestyle at taxpayers' expense.
"I am very pleased that following our investigation, which uncovered her real circumstances, the court has handed down this custodial sentence."
She added: "Now that Carina Reid has been convicted of this serious crime we intend to use all legal powers available to return as much of the money she dishonestly claimed from the public purse so it can be used to help those in real need."